Fox to Open Business News Network

NEW YORK-- Rupert Murdoch has entered a dark horse in high-stakes races before, and won.

On Monday, the News Corp. media titan trots out the Fox Business Network. Two years in the making, the channel will challenge General Electric's highly profitable CNBC network as it seeks to redefine business news for average Americans faced with increasingly complex decisions about their financial futures.

Murdoch already has knocked CNN off the U.S. cable news throne with Fox News Channel. But it remains to be seen whether he can do the same to NBC Universal's profit machine, whose audience of affluent professionals is one of the most sought-after advertising targets.

"CNBC has a monopoly on an in-demand demographic, but never underestimate Murdoch," said Porter Bibb, a managing partner at Mediatech Capital Partners, a financier of media businesses. "Success might take a while, but this is the right thing for them to do."

Fox defines success -- aside from ratings -- as expanding the business news audience by "demystifying" the subject, said Kevin Magee, the Fox News executive vice president in charge of the new business channel. There are plenty of people not watching business news because it is presented in an "off-putting" way, he said.

Magee would not disclose the programming schedule, citing competitive concerns. But Fox Business Network's flashy web site promises the network will cut through jargon to speak to the average investor, echoing comments by Murdoch last month that his channel will be for Main Street instead of Wall Street.

Other executives at Fox News have said CNBC was not friendly enough to business and focuses too much on scandal instead of positive corporate deeds.

They "intend to target middle America," said Chris Roush, a business journalism professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That likely means coverage of such topics as how to save for retirement or get the lowest credit card rates, or when is the right time to buy a house, he said.

Bibb said that strategy could attract a solid audience. "Every poll shows that people are concerned with economics above all else, except maybe war."

Although CNBC says it is not worried -- "The question isn't whether we're ready for them, but whether they're ready for CNBC," network president Mark Hoffman said -- it has already made changes that some see as a reaction to Fox. CNBC has added a business newsmagazine, retooled its pre-market show "Squawk Box" and added the personal investing program "Fast Money." Personal finance guru Suze Orman has been hired for a weekend show.

Bloomberg TV, the only other dedicated business network, also has recently spruced up its shows, putting more anchors on television and less scrolling data.

The tactic of selling business news to the American consumer has failed before -- CNNfn folded two years ago. Roush said CNN did not invest enough time or money in the channel, a mistake Murdoch is not likely to repeat.

Magee would not disclose any cost figures or a timeline for reaching profitability. SNLKagan media analyst Derek Baine estimates that Fox Business Network will lose about $185 million over four years before posting a profit in 2011. But Murdoch has shown he is willing to spend heavily over long periods to get what he wants.

He was derided 11 years ago when he started Fox News Channel, but it charged past industry leader CNN in six years and has not been caught since. Fox News averages 1.5 million viewers per day, while CNN draws 758,000 -- virtually the same number as when it had the field to itself.